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“Only time will let you know if you’re worth anything,” sings Coheed and Cambria founder Claudio Sanchez on “The Broken,” the second track and first impression for most listeners of Year Of The Black Rainbow, the band’s brand new fifth studio album. Like every stingingly sincere line of this first song to be released from the new album, not least of which its refrain of “Pray for The Broken/No one can fix us,” the lyrics pull double duty: They not only tell their portion of the prequel to the Amory Wars saga chronicled on the band’s previous four albums and in the 352-page Year Of The Black Rainbow novel co-authored by Claudio and best-selling author Peter David; they draw directly from Claudio and the band’s real life triumphs and travails.
“The song echoes the fact that I’ve always felt like an outsider looking in,” Claudio says. “I think that’s something fans of this band can certainly relate to. Most of our fans are not or were not the popular kids.’The Broken’ is sort of an anthem that calls out to embrace your flaws and weaknesses and with that acceptance, you’ll find that you are not alone.”
In fact, Coheed and Cambria’s very existence has seemingly consisted of one struggle after another, the band and its music being defined by every obstacle it’s been forced to overcome in order to continueÃ¢â‚¬â€let alone grow into the 21st century’s premiere progressive rock outfit and amass one of the most fiercely loyal followings in music. From the band’s formation, itself an eventful process that took place over the course of several years leading up the 2002 debut album The Second Stage Turbine Blade, through internal upheavals that followed the gold-certified breakthroughs In Keeping Secrets Of Silent Earth: 3 and Good Apollo, I’m Burning Star IV, Volume One: From Fear Through The Eyes Of Madness, and legal hassles that kept current drummer Chris Pennie from playing on Good Apollo, I’m Burning Star IV, Volume Two: No World For Tomorrow, uncertainty has been the sole constant of the Coheed and Cambria trajectory.
Ironically, the clouds seem to have parted for Year Of The Black Rainbow, the prequel and final installment of The Amory Wars, as Coheed and Cambria can finally feel a modicum of stability. The album is the first Coheed studio effort to feature the lineup of Sanchez, guitarist Travis Stever, bassist Michael Robert Todd and drummer Chris Pennie. Though Pennie had been a full time member of the band during the writing and rehearsing of the material that became 2007’s Good Apollo, I’m Burning Star IV, Volume Two: No World For Tomorrow, legal wranglings kept him off the record (Taylor Hawkins of Foo Fighters played his parts). Now having appeared on the Neverender: Children Of The Fence CD/DVD box set chronicling the 2008 live performances of the full Coheed catalogue, he appears on a studio recording for the first time with his bandmates of three years. “Being that this is my first time, I have to take a lot of things into consideration,” Pennie says. “Like being able to complement the band, being able to use the space, not overplaying, just doing what’s right for the tune.” That said, the former Dillinger Escape Plan drummer employed multiple techniques and kitsÃ¢â‚¬â€including one fashioned completely out of junkyard debrisÃ¢â‚¬â€to turn in possibly his most progressive playing to date on tracks like “The Broken,” “Guns of Summer,” and “In the Flame of Error.”
Despite so many other factors settling in, the making of Year Of The Black Rainbow presented entirely new challenges. Stalled attempts to write in a typical guitar-based manner turned out to be a mixed blessing, as producers Atticus Ross (nine inch nails, Jane’s Addiction) and Joe Barresi (Queens of the Stone Age, Tool) worked with Sanchez and the band on pursuing new approaches to writing and recording. “There was a moment where musically I felt like I’d hit a wall,” He remembers. “It was probably around the end of …No World For Tomorrow. We had done that record. We had endured and moved forward… but there was a moment where I felt’Maybe I can just leave this concept open ended and not do the origin story, maybe it’s unnecessary.’ (Until) Meeting Atticus and Joe… That first (demo) session, it was just different… I realized there are other elements at play that I can utilize to make songwriting fun again.” With the new producers’ encouragement and guidance, Coheed and Cambria came at the Year Of The Black Rainbow material from a radically different angle, employing sequencers for the first time, expanding the band’s sonic horizons, and ultimately recapturing the spark that moved them forward with the record.
Stever adds, “When you’re a band, sometimes you want to get something new out of your music. In order to do that, having the right producer is really important. I think that’s a dying notion. People are starting to just pass that off…’We can get anybody to just engineer’… That’s bullshit. There’s really something to say for somebody who comes and really can jumpstart and help a band or an artist, songwriter whatever, just get the best out of them, help them to make what they already have… shine, to use a stupid term.”
From there, the floodgates opened in epic fashion. The album’s first proper single “Here We Are Juggernaut,” while containing its share of Amory Wars storyline is also “very much about my relationship with my wife,” says Sanchez, “and how strong of a team we’ve become… This one unit, just pushing forward. It’s a very special tune for me.” (Those familiar with the band’s tumultuous career will definitely draw parallels to Sanchez’s journey with co-founders Stever and Todd and drummer Pennie). Other Year Of The Black Rainbow standouts include Todd’s stunning yet understated performance on the poignant, atmospheric “Far,” the show-stopping ballad “Pearl Of The Stars,” and “World Of Lines,” with its subtext revealing the band’s misgivings about the media. “Comic books–to most people that don’t really understand them–are a childish medium,” Sanchez says. “And we are a band that has a concept behind it that lives in that medium a little bit. Sometimes I can’t help but feel that reviewers don’t necessarily listen to the records.”
While The Amory Wars storyline running through the Coheed and Cambria discography and its corresponding comics, graphic novels and now the novel accompanying the deluxe edition Year Of The Black Rainbow can prove daunting for the casual critic or fairweather fan, it’s only served to unite the core Coheed fans. From the naming of the band after the two protagonists of the story that began with The Second Stage Turbine Blade, through the introductions of additional characters and storylines over the course of In Keeping Secrets Of Silent Earth: 3 (2003) and especially The Writer on the near-million-selling Good Apollo, I’m Burning Star IV, Volume One: From Fear Through The Eyes Of Madness (2005), and through the conclusion of the “tetralogy” on Good Apollo, I’m Burning Star IV, Volume Two: No World For Tomorrow, there are legions of fans the world over to whom The Keywork, Heaven’s Fence and the Kilgannon family are beloved mythology.
Though comic book adaptations of previous installments of The Amory Wars have been published by Claudio’s Evil Ink Comics over the years in conjunction with top indie comic outfits like Image and Boom! StudiosÃ¢â‚¬â€including two issues of The Second Stage Turbine Blade (#1 being out of print and #2 increasingly rare), a 10-issue The Amory Wars series, a Good Apollo, I’m Burning Star IV, Volume One: From Fear Through The Eyes Of Madness graphic novel, and a forthcoming print version of In Keeping Secrets Of Silent Earth: 3 due this June–Year Of The Black Rainbow marks the first time a straight prose novel has been written to accompany a Coheed and Cambria release, and most likely the first time its ever been done, period. Co-authored by Sanchez and award-winning New York Times best-selling author Peter David, Year Of The Black Rainbow will prove both essential reading for Coheed fanatics and, much like the record itself, a fitting point of entry for newcomersÃ¢â‚¬â€being, after all, the beginning of The Amory Wars.
“Coheed and Cambria, their interactions within the concept and within the text of Year Of The Black Rainbow,” Claudio says, is very much a reflection of my relationship with my wife and the relationship of my father and my mother. So I took the people in my life and fed them into the characters in the story. This story is the beginning of (Coheed and Cambria’s) love, the beginning of their life”¦. And the further the novel progresses, the more the mystery behind it is revealed. Chapter 3, Guns Of Summer, for example, the intro to it is basically a chronology of some of the things that happened in Heaven’s Fence, that I think will be very exciting for a fan who is invested in the concept. Also, The origins of the dragonfly, the first symbol of the band, it has a very huge relevance for myself… It’s all in here.”
And so it is that the Year Of The Black Rainbow prequel completes The Amory Wars and presents Coheed and Cambria with a completely clean slate for its next adventure(s). But that’s a story for another time. For now, the band already has an extensive touring agenda on the horizon, beginning with a handful of sold out intimate pre-release club gigs, then progressing through international theater and festival dates including a May headline at New York’s Central Park and a prime mainstage slot at this year’s Coachella FestivalÃ¢â‚¬â€all in a day’s work really for a band that’s played everything from Warren Haynes’ 2008 Christmas Jam (the band reciprocated the invitation, having Haynes sit in on a Neverender… performance of “Welcome Home”) to the 2009 Heaven & Hell arena tour to Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza, Austin City Limits and its own sold out shows. The true achievement for Coheed and Cambria this time out is the completion of a conceptual work more than 10 years in the making.
“In terms of the concept, this is the last record,” Claudio concludes. “It’s nice to know that there’s closure. If the band were to end tomorrow, this would be the perfect album to describe or to represent us.”
Year of the Black Rainbow is an amazing album. Fans who have followed the story of the previous four albums, will be rewarded with a technically and creativley brilliant album, odd time signatures and tiny hints of electronica ring-through the entire album, adding a more mature edge to their songs. But thats not to say as a new listener you cant just put the cd on and enjoy it. Tracks such as The Broken, Here We Are Juggernaut, stand out on this album, showing just how good coheed are.
1. “One” 1:56
2. “The Broken” 3:55
3. “Guns of Summer” 4:49
4. “Here We Are Juggernaut” 3:46
5. “Far” 4:56
6. “This Shattered Symphony” 4:27
7. “World of Lines” 3:19
8. “Made Out of Nothing (All That I Am)” 4:39
9. “Pearl of the Stars” 5:06
10. “In the Flame of Error” 5:29
11. “When Skeletons Live” 4:19
12. “The Black Rainbow” 7:35
Deluxe Edition Only
13. “Chamberlain (Demo)” (Previously Unreleased Bonus Track) 4:20
14. “The Lost Shepherd (Demo)” (Previously Unreleased Bonus Track) 4:11